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Published: November 11th 2010
The first thing that came to our mind when planning a trip to Nepal was trekking. We had wanted to do some of the world famous treks. The Annapurna Circuit or Langtang were high up on the list, but after my little hospital stay in Tibet, I wasn't overly keen to experiment with altitude again!
We eventually decided on the Helambu Trek mainly because it didn't require long bus rides and the maximum altitude is 3640m.
The most difficult aspect of the trek was choosing a trekking agency. Every second shop in Kathmandu is a trekking agency and every fourth guy who approaches you in the street is a 'guide' (The first guy is usually trying to sell you dope, the second is selling Tiger Balm and the third is trying to coax you into a chess set or horse head fiddle).
In the end we choose our agency because I liked the sound of the companies name, and the sales guy seemed slightly more genuine than the one we had spoken to previously. Pretty rubbish criteria for choosing a trekking agency and it turned out we probably won't be using this method in the future!
The Helambu Trek is considered one of the easier treks in Nepal and usually starts with an hours drive out of Kathmandu, eight days of walking, followed by a six hour bus drive back. It is more of a cultural trek than a mountain trek as it passes through many villages and land used for crops and grazing.
We decided against the six hour bus ride back and asked if we would be able to complete the trek as a circuit and continue over the final pass before trekking back down to the starting point, therefore allowing a one hour drive back to the city. The sales guy assured us that this was 'no problem' and before we knew it we were signed up for a nine day Helambu Trek.
Day One was a bit of shock to the system! Okay, I admit it. Usually Chris is the one carrying the food, extra clothes, map, compass and guide book when we go walking. I usually carry the camera.
So when I first heaved my pack on, I nearly cried. Seriously, I nearly did! All I could think about was how I was going to cope with carting
the damn thing around for the next nine days but a funny thing happens when you are trekking. Everyday you get a little bit stronger, because by Day Four, I could hardly feel my pack at all. It must be some sort of miracle!
Anyway, the trek took us through some really lovely scenery - miles and miles of bright green terraced hillsides, scattered villages and Buddhist pilgrimage points. We passed rivers, walked through moss covered forests, crossed a few swing bridges, spotted monkeys sitting in the trees, experienced some amazing mountain sunsets,viewed the mountains of Annapurna and Langtang, saw wild orchards growing in the bush, saw where a Thai Airlines plane crashed into the side of the mountain during bad weather in 2001, met some nice fellow trekkers and even spent a freezing night listening to the snow fall down on our trekkers lodge at Tharepati. Unfortunately, it was a bit difficult to get many good photos of the trek as the camera spent most of the time in the backpack. The terraces of rice, millet and wheat looked so bright and vibrant actually look a bit rubbish in the photos!
It was a real relief for
me to leave our high pass of Tharepati on Day Four and head back down to the lower valleys again. Perhaps it was physiological but I didn't feel relaxed up at this height and felt dizzy while I was up here. Seeing the trails branching off towards Langtang made me feel that we had definitely chosen the right trek for us.
Half way through the trek, it became apparent that we were making pretty good time and were due to spend the last few days covering shorter distances and spending hours 'resting' at a couple of small villages down the valley. This seemed like a nice idea in theory but in reality, both these villages offer little of interest, in fact one of them was downright nasty! After arriving at the first village at 1pm and being shown a room in lodge that made prison look appealing, we asked the guide if we might continue on for another few hours and end up finishing the trek a day early. He wasn't the least bit surprised, I'm sure the agency knows that most tourists will choose this option once they realise how horrible Talamerang is. We lost a days worth
of money doing this, but when faced with the prospect of spending a whole day relaxing in Talamerang, it was worth every penny to come back early!
As it turned out, our criteria for choosing an agency wasn't particularly good and our first positive impressions of the guide were wrong. We definitely made a mistake paying a lump sum that included our permits, guide, accommodation and food. Either the guide was given a ridiculously stingy amount of expenses money or he was purposely trying to spend less in order to keep more for himself. We were surprised to be charged for the chocolate component of our momo's one evening and when Chris questioned him things became just a little bit tense between us. He was clearly getting commissions by taking us to his friends crappy guest houses and when I told him that we wanted to stay at the much cleaner, popular and cheaper guesthouse next door, he told us to go ahead but he wouldn't pay for our accommodation or food if we 'didn't follow him' What a moron, um actually, that's OUR money you are talking about! We basically wiped our hands of him after that but
were surprised to see him meekly paying our bill the next morning before giving us a telling off for 'not following him' Chris told him to 'be quiet and keep walking' which was really funny to see the expression on his face!
Well, apart from having a guide with a bizarre case of PMT, we enjoyed our trek and were glad to get out into the fresh air and increase the fitness levels again. I especially liked the villages we passed through on our second to last day, as this part isn't on the main Helambu track. The children were so excited to see foreigners and didn't ask for money, sweets or pens like in other parts. The villages were much cleaner too and people took more of an interest in us. By day eight, we were smelling pretty bad and really eager to get back to Kathmandu for a shower, proper bed and change of clothes. As it turned out, we were back in town for a major Nepali festival.
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